Flex : Long Exposures in Wooden Buildings

Last weekend, I ventured to Sainte Marie Among the Hurons with my friend Bryan Weiss and some of his Daytripper Photo customers.  The re-creation of the habitat of the Hurons and Jesuits is very well done, and the facility is perfect for photography, so long as one is prepared with a tripod and willing to go with longer exposures.  But I did discover a problem...Before I get to that, do note that this is a re-creation of the 1650s, so there is wood smoke everywhere.  And it is smoke from sapwoods so be sure to clean the outside of your camera when you are done there and even if you are one of those who eschews the use of UV protective filters, this would be a good place to use one. I shot the entire day using a Canon 1Dx with Tamron's new PZD version of the 28-300/3.5-6.3  This is a very impressive lens, nearly as colour rich as Canon's own, at one third the price and one quarter the weight.  A really superb lens.

Wood frame buildings, particularly those framed with a built with Canadian softwoods have a certain amount of flex natively.  In normal situations, if you are the photographer standing still during your long exposures, things will go very well.  If however, you are where there are other tourists, particularly small children who bore easily, be prepared to over shoot because the clomping of feet on floorboards, stairways, second floors and basically anything attached to where you are photographing is going to cause blur.  I found that most all of my indoor photographs where other people were in the building exhibited some amount of blur.

There are solutions that work some of the time, such as Piccure that I have written about in the past as well as Photoshop's own Camera Shake correction.  I say some of the time because although they work wonderfully in most cases, some of my images are beyond recovery.  As it happens, I was gifted with the private beta to a forthcoming offering this morning and it did a better job on addressing the movement, but I cannot talk about it until it is released.

This is just a sample image that has been corrected for the floor shake.  It is not optimal but gives an indication of the possible with the right tools.  The better way would have been to pay more attention to my environment and wait for quiet.

The Father's Desk - after correcting for shake caused by moving floorboards

Tips to Make Better Images : RAW Actually Does Rule

With thanks and apologies to Rick Sammon, Ive lifted and readily use a phrase I learned from him, and that is that RAW Rules

If youve seen the television show I do with my friend Bryan Weiss, or taken a private workshop with me, or done a workshop with me at The Newmarket Camera Club, you know how often I say this.

So for those who dont know or those confused by a load of bafflegab, what does this actually mean?

RAW, as the name implies means uncooked.  The image that is captured is precisely what the sensor saw in all its glory or lack thereof.  That little screen on the back of the camera does not show the RAW image, it shows a JPEG and while JPEG does have a real name, I refer to the process of making a JPEG as microwaving.  You cook the image really quick and pretty much from the inside out.  A cooked image can look great, but its been cooked by someone elses recipe and things get lost in the cooking.

When people start to shoot and edit in RAW, they invariably say it didnt look like this!  This is flat and boring, and the colours dont pop, and I thought the detail was crisper and that there was more contrast and they go on and on and without support eventually say, screw this, Im going back to JPEG, because the pictures looked better.   They arent wrong, those JPEGs did look better, but what if you wanted to cook the photo yourself.

Picture this.  You want a hamburger.  You want that hamburger to be cooked medium and charred on the outside.  You want it to be juicy but not runny, maybe a tiny bit pink but not bleeding.  You get your hamburger and its pretty darn good but it isnt what you really wanted and you know that if you had started with the raw ground beef, you would have gotten what you really wanted.  Exactly correct.

Most higher end DSLRs capture in 14 bit RAW.  Capture in JPEG and they drop to 8 bit.  What does this mean?  Consider the following table, where each column shows the number of variant tones at each level.



What does this mean?  Fundamentally 8 bit images provide fewer tonal variants than 14 bit images.  So when we look at the whites, we go from 8192 levels of white to 128 levels of white and down in the blacks we go from 256 levels of black to 4 levels of black.

And you may say, so what.  Lets suppose that the image is not perfectly exposed.  Its a bit underexposed, say by a stop and you need to brighten it up.  There is a significantly lower amount of data to work with, in the example above, 64x less data to work with from a tonal perspective.  Oh and did we mention that when you save as a JPEG at the default settings you are throwing away at least 30% of the pixels you captured?  Yes this is done mathematically and for the most part it looks ok, but if you spent the money on a D800 with 36MP and save everything in large JPEG, you are getting at best 24MP out of the camera you spent so much for.

When you work with JPEGs you are working with less content.  And every time you export as a JPEG, you lose some more.  Work with the highest bit depth and the maximum amount of data through the entire edit process and make exporting as JPEG the VERY LAST THING YOU DO, not the first thing even before the image leaves the camera.

Now if you are shooting sports for a wire service or you are a photojournalist on deadline, your mileage may vary and you will need to do JPEGs, but thats not most of us.  If all you want are snapshots, JPEGs are just fine there too, because we are less likely to spend time working in the digital darkroom on snapshots.  But for your serious work, or when you are trying to grow as a photographer, RAW Rules.

Lightroom 4 First Day Experience

Adobe made Lightroom 4 available for purchase today and being the devoted Lightroom sort, I bought my upgrade and downloaded the new software. Installation was as simple as one would expect and following a very rapid catalog update, especially considering the thousands of images in my primary catalog, I was off to the races.

I opened my latest collection, a series of images I shot as tests when I was teaching for Bryan Weiss' Daytripper Photo business at his recent portrait event.  I didn't get to shoot a lot since I wanted to ensure that the students were getting the time, but I had grabbed a few with the Hasselblad H4D-40 of our professional model and the short notice stand-in of my daughter Dagny when our second model pulled a no show.

The Hassy makes really good images as one would expect and one of the very nice things about Lightroom is that it has the lens information already encoded for selecting when choosing the lens profiles.  The new version also brings process version 2012, which even with the very crisp studio lighting I employed (my wonderful Bowens Gemini 1000 Pros) I would say that the new process version is nicer.

I did no real editing in Lightroom other than to apply a custom white balance that I created using the Colorchecker Passport plugin from a shot with model Shannon holding the Passport.

I then took the photograph into On One Software's Photo Suite 6 as I had not given it a solid press since installing it.  The new suite loads automatically into its Layers 2 component.  I moved right into Perfect Portrait and sharpened and brightened the eyes, added some saturation to the mouth and cleaned up a few blemishes using the skin tune functions.  Very fast and very controllable.

I then clicked into the Blur service (aka Focal Point 2) and using their "bug" set up a nice darkening vignette and applied a bit of blur to the area outside her face.  Again, very controllable although I felt the default setting was a tad aggressive.  The bug allows you to control the blur and non-blur mask areas very quickly.  Once done, I applied the changes I had made and the photo returned to Lightroom as a PSD, ready for re-editing if needed.

I was very happy with the image so I wanted to make a print.  What paper should I use?  I decided to try some 13x19 from an Inkpress Paper Sampler and so printed the photo twice, once on the Warm Tone Rag 300, a really nice two sided all cotton rag and the second time on Inkpress' respected Glossy Canvas.  I used Lightroom to select the ICC and opted for standard print sharpening and matte and glossy paper respectively.  I typically use the Perceptual resolution setting and it worked well in this printing exercise.

My printer is the Epson Stylus Pro 4900.  It's a monster but I love the output quality and its incredible speed and paper handling capability.  The drivers were gacked (a known issue with the Apple drivers for OS X 10.7) so I had to install the Epson drivers directly which gave me some oddities in the print dialog box.  I like using ICC profiles for the paper but had to choose ICC profiles for the 7900/9900 as profiles for the 4900 did not exist and past experience trying other profiles on other Inkpress papers has been less than stellar.  I do wish Inkpress would provide more profiles specifically for my printer.

Despite a misstep on my part loading the canvas at first, the prints came out beautiful right away and are only improving as I let them set before mounting.  One of the other things I really like about the 4900 is that while a complete refill is a mortgage payment, each of the cartridges holds 200ml of their Ultrachrome pigment inks, instead of the ludicrous 13ml found in most photo printer cartridges.  Folks do ask me what printer to buy and while I favour Epson, I always suggest to anyone vaguely serious to get up model to one that uses reasonably sized ink cartridges.  Epson used to have a really bad rep for clogged print heads that rendered the whole device a paperweight but their new teflon coated nozzles don't have this problem.

I'll be heading out tonight for mattes and frames.  A really great exercise today.